Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sorting through pictures of a life well lived

"Sorting Mommy's Pictures," October 2010, Oakland.

My mother-in-law passed away last Sunday; she was 90 years old. Hers was a life well-lived: as a school teacher, as a military colonel's wife, as a mother to a military general and seven other children, as grandmother and nurturer to 22 grandchildren and six great grandchildren, as a widow who came into her own fierce independence during the last 25 years.

She was a giver through the very last. In her senile stage she would awake in the middle of the night to cook for absent loved ones who peopled her new reality. She will be interred next week, but her true resting place will be in the hearts of those among us who were edified by her goodness. Her goodness will endure, and as my wife and her siblings went through the process of collecting her things, so will her pictures, a cache of them. Images that spanned decades of people she cared for, places she saw. Her husband dancing the tango, her son in his military finery looking fierce during his academy years, countless images of loved ones dining and drinking (Filipinos love to eat), pictures of babies who have grown up to become men and women, and pictures of their own babies.

Memories stored in boxes, old Kodak envelopes, and yellowing photo albums dog-eared and crinkled by repeated viewings. We will cling to these time-worn images to remind ourselves of who we were, and how we used to be when we were graced by the presence of this lovely, generous woman. Godspeed, mommy, we miss you already.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Lawn game near Gaudi's Cathedral

Untitled, Barcelona, April 2010.

If you break away from the tourist trail that surrounds La Sagrada Familia, Antoní Gaudi's unfinished cathedral in Barcelona, you will find a little park where locals come to play. As modest as the cathedral is grand, I found the park remarkable for one thing: the virtual absence of women. Here elderly men gather under the shade to play chess or on plots of sand to watch or compete in lawn games -- with nary a female in sight.

This set of pictures shows a tournament in progress, complete with gold cups for prizes. I don't know the name of this lawn game. It seems like a variation of boule or bocce, but the players use discs instead of balls. Any ideas?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

To market, to market!

Mercat de San Josep de la Boqueria, Barcelona, April 2010.

Jamones y Chorizos, Barcelona, April 2010.

Señorita de las Frutas, Barcelona, April 2010.

Fish Stand, Montparnasse, Paris, April 2010.

Artisanal Marzipan, Florence, April 2010.

Seagull and Oysters, Paris, April 2010.

Farmer's Market, Montparnasse, Paris, April 2010.

Marisc, Barcelona, April 2010.

Turrónes, Barcelona, April 2010.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Street mimes of Barcelona

Mimes, Ramblas, Barcelona, April 2010.

Las Ramblas is a tree-lined promenade that is the beating heart of Barcelona. Stretching 1.2 kilometers long across several districts of the city, Las Ramblas at any given time is an ocean of people, both tourists and locals, that amble merrily in a space that is part market, part sidewalk cafe, and part carnival.

The carnival spirit of the Ramblas comes courtesy of its street mimes, human statues of fantasy and whimsy that transform the promenade into a demented person's idea of a sculpture garden. The mimes hold their stillness with unblinking precision but come to life at the drop of a coin in carefully choreographed routines. A pair of demons that could have ascended from the world of H.R. Giger unfold their metallic wings and snarl at the crowd. A golden Chinese emperor coils a snake around his glittering torso. An angel hands out heavenly favors. San Francisco has its share of street mimes in its tourist hubs, but few are as witty or as elaborately garbed as these Barcelona mimes. My favorite is the bronze cowboy, whose charisma and camera-ready poses would have easily made him a star in a John Ford movie.

At Park Güell, a mime dressed as one of Gaudi's mosaic tile dragons echoes the serpent that guards Gaudi's playful water fountain at the entrance to the park. Inside the park's sandy square, an invisible man charms the crowd with the antics of a decapitated Chaplin while a two-headed man in a white burka double-duties as a ventriloquist.

The southermost end of Las Ramblas will lead you to the monument of Christopher Columbus at Placa de la Porta de Pau. Atop the 197 foot monument, Columbus stands frozen with one arm outstretched pointing to the sea. After spending an afternoon with the street mimes of Barcelona, one is tempted to drop a coin at the foot of the monument, and wait for Columbus to do The Hustle.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Theaters of rue de la Gaîté

Marquee, rue de la Gaîté, Paris, April 2010.

Theatre Rive Gauche, rue de la Gaîté, Paris, April 2010.

In Montparnasse, off rue de Maine, you will find a narrow alley lined with theaters that date back to the cabarets and music halls of 19th century Paris. The place is called rue de la Gaîté, the street of gaiety.

I found this street by chance during an early morning stroll after having breakfast at the public market. I knew nothing of its history, but was captivated by the marquees and the fire engine red facade of Comédie-Italienne, the last remaining theater in France that stages plays written exclusively by Italians.

While I took pictures of the marquee painting by Clayette above the Theatre Rive Gauche, an old lady watched me with amusement and explained its history to me -- in French -- saying it was a copy, but a good one (if I understood her correctly).

I realized later on, with the aid of Google, that I’d been walking along the street that was the heart of bohemian Paris, the Paris of Henry Miller and Ernest Hemingway, Doisneau and Brassai, the Paris I've romanticized in my mind for so long. On rue de la Gaîté, in its cafes and music hall stages, the likes of Josephine Baker, Kiki (Man Ray's muse), Edith Piaf, Juliette Greco and Jacques Brel entertained writers, artists and intellectuals who came to Paris from around the world to live la vie bohème.

That evening, I returned to rue de la Gaîté to toast my sister's birthday. We sat outdoors at a cafe with multicolored seats, talked about our loved ones, and soaked ourselves in a most perfect April evening.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Pause near Ponte Vecchio, Florence, April 2010.

Montparnasse, Paris, April 2010.

Florence, Italy, April 2010.